Wrecking the Curve

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FORTRAN punch card (public domain)

Most of our WTFs are produced on modern hardware, but today we're taking you back to the dawn of computing, back to the 1960s, when our submitter, Robert, was in college. Rob was taking a class in Numerical Analysis, which allowed people to submit their programs to the university computer (singular, as this was before computers were cheap enough to have a whole lab of 30+ of them just lying around for students). This involved using a keypunch machine to punch cards to run a FORTRAN program that might give you the answers to your homework. It was marginally faster than using a slide rule, until you factored in that students had low priority on the queue to submit their programs to be run, so they'd have to wait hours, if not days, to get access. Most students didn't even bother with the expensive machine, simply doing their maths the old-fashioned way and leaving it at that.

Just a Bit Bad

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Eyal N works on some code which relies on "bit matrices": 2D arrays of bits. Since they are working in C, in practice this means that they have one giant array of bytes and methods to handle getting and setting specific entries in the matrix.

One day, Eyal sat down to do a remote pair-programming session with a co-worker. It started out alright, but the hours ticked by, the problem they were dealing with kept showing thornier and thornier edge cases, and instead of calling it a day, they worked late into the night.

You Must Agree!

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"Apparently they don't want you to Strongly Agree with everything they say!" wrote David S.

An Ugly Mutation

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If there’s a hell for programmers, it probably involves C-style strings on some level. C’s approach to strings is rooted in arrays, and arrays are rooted in pointers, and now suddenly everything is memory manipulation, and incautious printf and memcpy commands cause buffer overruns. I'm oversimplifying and leaving out some of the better libraries that make this less painful, but the roots remain the same.

Fortunately, most of the time, we’re not working with that sort of string representation. If you’re using a high-level language, like Java, you get all sorts of perks, like abstract string methods, no concerns about null termination, and immutability by default.

String Up Your Replacement

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Generating SQL statements is a necessary feature of many applications. String concatenation is the most obvious, and also the most wrong way to do this. Most APIs these days offer a way to construct SQL statements out of higher-level abstractions, whether we’re talking about .NET’s LINQ, or the QueryBuilder objects in many languages.

But let’s say you’re doing string concatenation. This means you need to have lots of literals in your code. And literal values, as we know, are bad. So we need to avoid these magic values by storing them in variables.

Accidental Toast of the Town

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Don't you just love it when some part of your app just suddenly and magically STOPS working all of a sudden?

Our submitter David sure does (not). While working on his Android app, much to his surprise, he noticed that after one build, it wasn't displaying pop-up toast style notifications.

A Military Virus

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The virus threats we worried about in the late 90s are quite different than the one we're worrying about in 2020, because someone looked at word processors and said, "You know what that needs? That needs a full fledged programming language I can embed in documents."

Alex was a sailor for the US Navy, fresh out of boot, and working for the Defense Information School. The school taught sailors to be journalists, which meant really learning how to create press releases and other public affairs documents. The IT department was far from mature, and they had just deployed the latest version of Microsoft Word, which created the perfect breeding ground for macro viruses.

Let's Dazzle Them with Errors!

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"Hmmm...Somehow, I can't seem to remember the password for this particular AppleID," writes Thomas G.